13. Pro-Democracy Movement
If one looks at the Iranian movement for change of IRI, thinking of traditional political parties, thoughts, groups, etc., basically one will end up seeing nothing in horizon not only to challenge IRI but also to replace it. 99% of the movement to challenge IRI has had nothing to do with any of these groups.
The truth of the matter is that in opposition to the *theocracy* in Iran, a strong *secular* movement for a new republic has been forming in the last three decades and this movement encompasses journalists, writers, students, teachers, workers, and other social groups of Iran which are coming forward one after the other without any calls of any of the traditional groups, personalities, etc. Anytime any of those traditional groups and personalities made any calls, nobody showed up.
The organizations of writers, journalists, lawyers, students, teachers, and workers, organizations such as Jebhe Demokratik Iran and kAnoon-e nevisandegAn, are creating leaders who are the main threat to the IRI and this is why we saw the Saiid EmAmi killing of Foruhars and the writers, not that Foruhars' own organization was that important, but because he had lined up with this new trend in Iranian politics, which is commonly referred to as the third force.
I do not know how each individual in this movement, from Heshmat Tabarzadi to Simin Behbahani to a lot of lesser known other activists, writers, journalists, teachers, students, workers, and others will end up having a role in this movement and in Iran's future, but I think Hoviatis had seen it coming that they picked someone like Mohammad MokhtAri to assassinate, because exactly such individuals are the ones who will replace the IRI leadership, one way or the other.
Even the Students Movement of the last decade in Iran is fundamentally different from the Iranian Students Movements of the 60's and 70's. The Students Movements that followed the 1953 Coup were marked by the 16th of Azar. In 1999, I wrote a detailed article about 16-Azar of 1332. The movements of that era were basically driven by the political groups of Iran. Groups such as hezb-e toodeh, jebh-e melli, and nehzat-e azadi and later on, mojAhedin, cheikhAy-e faAdyee, and others.
Today's students movement is actually a part of a strong intellectual movement in Iran and is hardly driven by political groups of Iran. From Khatami to Reza Pahlavi, from MKO to Jebh-e Melli, various political groups try hard to identify with this students movement, but basically this movement looks up to the intellectuals of Iran, and hardly cares for any of the old traditional groups, and in fact new groups like Tabarzadi's Jebhe Demokratik has been born from Jebhe Motahede Daneshjooii of 18-Tir movement of 1999.
The students movement of Nov/Dec 2002 and May 2003 in Iran reminded me of the last years of the Czech's Communist Regime, where old political groupings, and the most popular figure among them, Alexander Dubcek, lost their popularity quickly, as the movement got momentum, and Vaclav Havel, an author, unknown in the political circles, rose to be the leader of the powerful new movement for change.
Today in Iran, the Islamic Reformers and Khatami, are attacking the hardliners for what they consider to be the misrepresentation of true Islam and Islamic Revolution by hardliners. Just as Alexander Dubcek wanted to save Communism by attacking the hard line rulers, Khatami wants to save the Islamism, by repeating his Reformist interpretation of Islamic Revolution, something that even his collaborators do not buy anymore.
On the other hand, Reza Pahlavi's speeches in 1999, were taken seriously for the first time in many years, because he disassociated himself from the Shah's monarchy and wanted to play a role like Sihanok in Cambodia, where talking mostly of secular democracy, and focusing on referendum for the future of Iran. Sticking with the strong desire of Iranian people for a referendum, and having intellectual supporters of monarchy, such as Shaheen Fatemi to speak on his behalf, than staunch monarchists of Shah's time, helped his call to gain support. Although it did not take long to see that the plan of democratic monarchy in Iran is not more than a myth.
In other words, the 1979 Revolution and 1990's Reform have long faded away, and the old political alternatives have little credibility to attract any serious following. Political groupings of the past are all trying very hard to be *the* alternative, but what is obvious is that the people are looking for new leaders elsewhere, not among the old political groupings of the past.
People are looking for new leaders among the authors and journalists and among other intellectuals, the ones who have not been necessarily associated with any political movement. What Iranian people are doing about politics, is a new way of looking at the political destiny of Iran. They are now experimenting with an alternative way of looking for political alternatives. They are looking for political leaders among the ones who are hardly political, in the traditional sense of the word, in search of personalities like Vaclav Havel.
A. Issues facing Iran's pro-democracy movement
I do not think anybody in the Iranian opposition would disagree that there is something seriously wrong with the Iranian opposition of the last two decades, or it would not have failed so miserably to change the regime in Iran. Islamic Republic of Iran has been around for over two decades although it is one of the most undesirable regimes in the world, both by the Iranian people living under its rule, and by the people and states of many other countries. And the mullah's Islamism, contrary to Hitler's Fascism, is not good at technology to compensate for its inabilities in economic and international relations, when the people want a modern democratic system in Iran.
Also one cannot just say that this regime has been around because the mullahs of Iran, contrary to Mola Omar of Afghanistan, are very sly in game playing, both with various political forces inside Iran and the ones outside. True that Iranian clergy know how to play the game of speaking on both sides of their mouth very well, to avoid a fate like the Shah, where all forces opposing the Shah united against his arrogance. But regardless of all these tricks of the magicians of Islamic Republic, the main reason why this regime is still around is that the opposition has not been able to be a viable alternative to unite the Iranian people to replace this regime.
And the problem of Iran certainly is not the lack of opposition. Comparing Iran to all the Arab countries and Afghanistan, one can see that Iranian opposition is a very *real* thing, and anybody who thinks that change of regime in Iran should or will be done by outside forces is blind to see the extent of Iranian opposition forces. Then the question is why this opposition is so real and extensive and yet is not an alternative.
I think what is wrong with Iranian opposition is that we Iranians do not know how to work as a community of individuals and at the same time we can no longer accept a cult-like organizational structure either. In 1994, in an article about Memes, I explained the meaning of an organization of free individuals and its difference with a cult. In short, the Iranians have become very conscious about individual rights, thanks to the Islamic Republic’s wiping out of last vestiges of social freedoms in Iran, on top of the political freedoms that were already wiped out by the Shah. I noted extensively about this phenomena at the beginning of this book.
The bottom line reality is that Iranians are now very aware of individual freedoms and the genie cannot go back in the bottle. Some consciously deny the free choice to themselves to escape from this free choice, and join cults like MKO. A similar phenomena was true in Germany of Hitler and this is why Eric Fromm wrote his book "Escape From Freedom" to describe those who although have freedom available to them, escape from it to cults, to avoid decision-making as a responsible person in a free society. But those going for cults like MKO or Baha'i or Shahmaghsoodi are not the main body of Iranian opposition. The question is not about them because Iranian people have already said no to cults like MKO, and MKO has already shown that it is not able to mobilize Iranian people to change the regime.
The question is about those who respect their own individual rights. Those people have the support of Iranian people but they have not been able to form any serious organization of themselves and this is the problem that one needs to solve. I think we Iranians do not know how to work in an organization of free individuals and basically we only know how to form a political cult, but political cults cannot be formed by independent individuals, and this is why we have failed for the last two decades, when Iranians have become independent individuals, and will not accept any cults, but are not able to form democratic organizations either.
As a result, we have as many organizations as we have individuals in the opposition. Some think this is because in a democracy individuals can think for themselves and are not like those who abide by a valiye faghih. This is half true. In fact, the free individuals should be able to cooperate and they have done it for centuries in the Western democracies. If one cannot form a democratic opposition organization, one should also doubt to be able to form a democratic state later after taking power. Almost all these organizations of Iranian opposition are trying to get the support of the U.S., to be the one leading the future state in Iran. Even the Islamic reformists and the IRI regime itself, are in this race for the heart of United States.
Nonetheless the reality of presence of a large Iranian opposition means that not the U.S., but Iranian opposition is the determining factor for any regime change in Iran. How is the opposition going to solve the problem of unity?
I think the leaders of all shades of political thought should make it their first priority to create *democratic* organization of their own likeminded individuals. In other words to have very simple things like "Robert Rules of Order" voting and quorum, charters and bylaws, etc. For example, I think Reza Pahlavi, if he thinks that he is for monarchy, he should take a lead and create such a *democratic* organization of monarchists. If he abdicates the throne, then he can participate in forming an organization with a republican platform, but one has to start making organizations of free individuals, and show the people of Iran that the opposition is able to create *democratic* organizations of itself, before it can claim to run the country by free individuals cooperating in a state.
These organizations should show that they are a different kind of organization that is not based on unethical "end justifying means" principles, and that they will not defame people because of dissent, and that they respect people's right to leave the organization any time the individual desires.
For example part of a group of monarchists recently changed to republican, and the other half of the group has just been distributing insults and threats to the dissenters. These are not harbingers of a new way of thinking about organizations and this is not the way to create democratic organizations.
What I think is a step forward is that all forces of the Iranian political spectrum now have platforms. This is something hardly any of them had twenty years ago. I myself have written a proposed platform for a futurist party. It is a good thing that all different political forces now have their own platforms. Why? Well to form an organization which is a community of free individuals, one has to first have a platform which specifies the political goals of the organization. Then one has to define the organization's rules.
For example, very simple things like the right to leave an organization, something which is so clearly absent in the MKO cult, and they treat worse than Mafia with those who separate from that organization.. One should be crazy to call such a mafia cult a political organization.
So the organizational rules. And then one should democratically go about plans for different areas of politics, economics, culture, human rights, and change of regime in Iran. The organization should use voting and democratic structures to run itself and with such approach one can work for the unity of the whole opposition. An opposition which is made of a few cults can be united like a fiefdom by a khAn or a sheikh or a shah. But groups of free individuals cannot be united that way. We need to start forming democratic organizations of free individuals who share common political platforms.
Inside Iran with less democracy, there has been more attempts for democratic structures than among the opposition outside Iran where there has been more of a free environment to achieve it. The reason is that the Iranian opposition abroad is more the remainder of past groups, and is focused on quick shortcuts than on creating serious organizations. The latter may be more painstaking and time-consuming but this is the only way to go.
Some people may be able to help such efforts financially. Some others may put in more time. That is the individual' s focus. But the goal should be to form organizations of free individuals among Iranians. This is the only way to make a change in Iran that can last, because exactly such organizations will be needed not just to change the regime, but to run a future democratic Iran.
B. Students' Movement of July 9, 1999 (18-Tir 1378)
18-Tir students uprising of Iran was a bloody day that Iranian students all know very well. If a day should be picked as the beginning of formation of new secular pro-democracy organizations of Iran, I think 18-tir 1378 (July 9, 1999) would be appropriate.
The event happened two years after the election of President Khatami to office, when the Iranian people turned the table on the Islamic Republic, and even within the confines of IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) 's selections, voted for the candidate who was not the regime’s #1 choice, in the IRI presidential election of 1997. That was the 2-khordad, when the popular hope was to start of a process that people's movement would find its *real* leaders, and not the ones selected by the establishment, such as Khatami, within the confines of IRI. Even this prospect made the regime scared, and the killings of Foruhars and writers in Nov 1998, was regime's attempt to stop such a process.
The killings backfired and the regime was forced to admit the chained murders as the work of its own intelligence service agents, and had a sham trial of the agents, although behind closed doors, after the mysterious suicide of their lead hit-man, Saeed Emami, inside the jail. Saeed Emami had worked for the regime for years, making Hoviyat program on IRI Television, a program similar to TV shows of Shah's Savak, focused on discrediting Iran’s opposition.The Students Uprising of July 9th, 1999 was the first popular movement, less than a year after the chained murders, which showed beyond doubt that killings of Foruhars and writers, not only did not stop the ones who wanted real change in Iran, but it had made them more determined, when seeing the reformist regime not working hard to protect its own friends, let alone guaranteeing the protection of various groups of the pro-democracy movement, as one would expect from a real reformist regime. This is how a parallel secular movement started alongside 2nd Khordad movement, on July 9th, 1999, and gained momentum as the years passed.
These university students were born at the time of 1979 Revolution, and contrary to 1981 and 1988 massacres of the regime, which were against the remainders of anti-Shah movement, here the regime was facing a new fresh movement of those born and raised under the Islamic Republic. The students were vocal about their demands for change in Iran, and the regime was also very clear in its attack on them. The vigilantes attacked, killed, and wounded the students, and many of the student leaders were arrested, yet Khatami threatened the students to discontinue or get the stick.
Khatami from the first days after July 9, 2004, was very slow to bring the murderers of Foruhars and attackers of students to justice, but he was very swift, on that day, to threaten suppression of the Students Pro-Democracy Uprising. This way basically secular Iranian students lost their faith in Khatami from that day, and took a more farsighted vision about the future steps of their struggle, and did not allow the regime to kill off the pro-democracy movement, like the Chinese Tien An Men Square.
Some of the student leaders are still in Islamic Republic’s dungeons, some others were forced to make TV confessions, and later told the people of the truth. Even the TV confessions backfired on the regime, making its image more like that of Savak confessions of regime’s predecessor, i.e. the confessions under torture during Shah’s regime, which Iranian people still remember. The anniversaries of 18-Tir in summer, were continued and became the school of democracy in Iran, always followed by 16-Azar (Dec 7) anniversaries in the Fall, which I will explain later.
Two years after July 9th, in the elections of 2001, Iranian people voted for Khatami again, although this time, he was the regime’s #1 choice. People voted for him to choose the lesser evil among the candidates, and preferred to do this than boycott, when they did not see any serious alternative yet, and this helped the newly formed pro-democracy groups to solidify.
In July 2001, Khatami’s government that had just come to its second term, with a strong vote, in its first test after its new term, backed off from giving permission for the anniversary demonstrations of the 18th of Tir, nonetheless, the students did not give up on their demonstration against the Islamist dictatorship, and for a democratic and future_oriented government through a referendum.
One thing that was obvious for sure, was that in 2001, only two years after the 18-Tir Students Uprising, the Iranian people have found so many new leaders, who were neither from the past nor selections of IRI. Just looking at the names of the ones in IRI prisons, or newly released prisoners shows how unsuccessful the regime was, when hoping that by killings the Foruhars and writers, and the killing of dissidents abroad, to deprive the Iranian people of leadership to oppose this regime.
These were new leaders who had come out of the July 9th, 1999 students movement, leaders who were neither with MojAhedin nor with Monarchy. They were an independent new force that Iranian progressive aspirations had created, and they were getting stronger and stronger, and the attacks of regime’s vigilantes, would only make this force more aware, as to how to form a democratic Futurist Iran.
In the subsequent year, the students movement reached a new height, a few months after the July 9th anniversary of 2002, in Oct and Dec 2002, on the anniversary of 16-Azar (Dec 7, 1953). I will explain about the history of Dec 7, 1953 later in here. The 2002 demonstrations broke out on the occasion of a death edict for a university professor on the charges of blasphemy, and the students movement continued into a new height into the May 2003. Khatami's government hid the murder of Iranian-Canadian reporter Zahra Kazemi, until after July 9th to prevent students' rage. Also the regime took advantage of people's grieving for the two Iranian Siamese twins, who had died under an operation to get separated, in the days before July 9th, to calm down the July 9th anniversary of 2003.
On 2004 anniversary of18-Tir ( July 9th) widespread arrests of Iranian pro-democracy activists was done, but in the words of and RSF reporter from Tehran, participation in the July 9th events, it has turned into a symbol of honor for Iranian students. This is like the way participating in 16-Azar (Dec 7) anniversary was for the students of my generation.
C. Students' Movement of Dec 7, 1953 (16-Azar 1332)
16-Azar (Dec 7) is from the days right after the CIA coup of 1953. Despite the attempts by monarchists in the recent years to remove anniversary celebrations of Dec 7th from the calendar of Iran's pro-democracy movement, Iranian students celebrate both days, because Dec 7 (16-Azar) reminds us that we do not want to trade one retrogressive regime with another.
Iranian students have been struggling for democracy for over half a century, commemorating two days shows this challenge under two dictatorial regimes. It should not be surprising why Iranian students make a point to keep both days because they want to emphasize that they will not be return to the old regime as the monarchists try to take advantage of IRI atrocities to come back to power in Iran. Below is my memories of 16-Azar (Dec 7) at the time of the Shah.
The anniversary of Dec 7, 1953, is from another generation of Iranian students who fought for democracy under the Shah's regime. The anniversary of 16-Azar of 1332, rooz-e dAneshjoo, the International Students Day. Many people who have been members of the Confederation of Iranian Students abroad in 60s and 70s, or have been students in Iran in those years, would remember the commemorations in Iran and abroad, on this special day, and still after the 1979 Revolution, the Iranian students in Iran celebrate the anniversary of this day.
When I was a student in late 60s and early 70s, I remember celebrations of this day, and it was a day that students remembered their freedom-loving peers, who were the first to oppose Shah's dictatorship of post-CIA coup of 1953, and who had given their blood to show their dislike of Shah's repression, just a few months after that dark CIA coup in Iran.
My cousin, Ahmad Ghandchi, who was sympathetic to Jebhe Melli, and two others, Shariat-Razavi and Bozorg-Nia, who were claimed by hezbe tudeh as sympathetic to Hezb-e Tudeh, were killed by the gun of Shah's police, on this 7th day of December in 1953, at the University of Tehran, when they had gone on strike, protesting Nixon's visit of Iran, following the CIA coup of 1953.
As far as calling the three students as jebhe or tudeii, this is how anybody was categorized in 1953, as either jebhe or tudeii, but they were just freedom-loving students of Technology Faculty (Daneshkadeh Fani) of University of Tehran, who were protesting the coup that had overthrown legal popular reformist government of Dr. Mossadegh.
The blood stain of the three students on the columns of the main building of Daneshkadeh Fani was still there a few years ago. I do not know if it is still there now. For years during the Shah's regime, following the bloody shooting of the Shah's regime on 16-Azar, the students of Daneshkadeh Fani, were the bastions of Iranian students movement for democracy.
Outside Iran, the main newspaper of the Confederation of Iranian students in 60s and 70s was called 16-Azar, and the day 16-Azar was always celebrated by Iranian students, who studied in universities abroad. I think all the archives of Confederation's 16-Azar paper may be found at the US Library of Congress in the Iran section.
Ahmad Ghandchi, Shariat-e Razavi, and Bozorg-nia are buried in emAm-zAdeh AbdollAh near Tehran. I was two years old when they were killed, so I just know about them from family conversations. When I was a child, I used to go to their graveside with my father, as it is also near my grandfather's grave.
My zan-amoo (my cousin's mother), who passed away just about fifteen years ago, always would cry every time remembering her son Ahmad. Ahmad was one of the brightest in the family. Ahmad Ghandchi got his diploma when he was 16 and was very knowledgeable. His story of being killed, for fighting against the dictatorship, is unfortunately the story of the life and death of many of the brightest children of Iran over the years.
The students' protest in 16th of Azar, was not only to protest the post-Coup repression and US involvement in Iran, but Shariat-Razavi, Ghandchi, and Bozorg-nia and their peers, thought that they can break that atmosphere of fear and intimidation (rob va vahshat), and perhaps they had a chance. But unfortunately they were defeated and the post-coup terror continued for decades.
The US policy was the main reason for the success of coup, and for failure of democracy in Iran in those years. I have condemned IRI hostage-taking, from day one, which happened in the aftermath of 1979 Revolution, nonetheless, I have also condemned U.S. role in Iran, during the Shah's regime, from CIA coup of 1953, to training of the Savak, to supporting the repressive Shah's government in the post-coup years.
The July 9th Uprising of Iranian students in 1999, reminded me of the 16-Azar of 1953. Again the Iranian students took the flag of asking for freedom and democracy in Iran and a few were killed and a number of them are still in jail.
After years and years of struggle for democracy in Iran, and even after going through a revolution, again the democratic law and human rights were defeated in Iran and again the Iranian students are in the forefront of pro-democracy movement, to protest the repression and to ask for democracy, and again they are paying with their blood for this great ideal of humanity.
D. Students and Democracy in Iran
What is notable today is that there is a strong movement of pre-university youth in Iran, that ever since the years of 1941-1953 such a pre-university youth movement was never this strong. In post-1953, only the otoboosrAni movement of 1969 ( a movement protesting the price of bus tickets in 1969), was a notable movement with pre-University youth. Other than that, during the 1953-1979 period, there was hardly any pre-university youth movement in Iran. In recent years, the youth movement has shown its powerful presence on occasions such as the periodic matched of soccer games in Iran.
I think the presence of a strong youth movement in the years after the fall of Reza Shah and following World War II, was because on one side there was a half-democracy in Iran, in those years, and on the other side, the atmosphere in the world, was very international and the youth in different countries compared themselves with their counterparts in other countries, and were demanding what their peers had.
Internet and Television have created a similar situation for the youth today, where Iranian youth compare themselves to their peers elsewhere in the world, and the movement of the youth in Iran is an added element to the movement of Iranian university students and it is hard to say how these two movements will complement each other in their struggle for democracy and progress.
Even the teachers movement is in close relation with the students, raising the flag of pro-democracy movement. Nonetheless, these are tough times, especially for the ones who are facing the vigilantes on the streets of Iran and are facing torture in the Evin prison. I believe any help for the progressive students movement in Iran has never been as timely as now.
The cornerstone of the current movement in Iran is the separation of state and religion and the demand for full secularism, which can only happen by ending the Islamic Republic of Iran for good, and the regime tries its best to suppress the secular forces.
One of the leaders of Iranian pro-democracy movement, during the prolonged students demonstrations of 2002, noted an important thought. He said that students movement have their own limitations, although students movement has always been a spectacular part of pro-democracy movement of Iran. To lead the movement of Iran for regime change, a political party is needed, and although students movement and its leadership, are important parts of such an endeavor, but they are not equal. In a separate paper, I have written my thoughts on the Futurist Party, and have discussed it in relation to political coalitions as well.
References Chapter 13